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Hatton Tries To Get Back To Where He Once Belonged

Bernard Fernandez

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PacquiaoHatton Hogan 43The ever-so-appropriate words were written and sung by another famous British subject, Sir Paul McCartney, in the days when the Beatles were cranking out even more smash hits than those authored in the ring by the latter-day boxer who came to be known as “The Hitman” to similarly adoring throngs.

Get back, get back

Get back to where you once belonged

For former two-division world champion Ricky Hatton, whose shrieking fan base reminded some of the pandemonium that was Beatlemania, the place where he once belonged must now seem long ago and far away. He was the pride of Manchester, England, non-soccer division, and as much of a hero there and throughout the United Kingdom as was McCartney and his three band mates. Was it only five years ago that Hatton’s popularity was such that he could seduce 25,000 of his countrymen to travel to Las Vegas for one of his fights, even if many of them couldn’t procure tickets inside the arena? Or just three years since his fun-loving, scampish halo was knocked askew in the wake of a crushing one-punch wipeout and revelations of lackadaisical training, binge drinking and forays into recreational drugs?

And was it less than a year ago that Hatton, his hero status and personal life increasingly in tatters, plunged into depression so deep he considered slitting his wrists and ending it all?

But Hatton, now 34, inactive for 42 months and edging ever closer to the comeback bout that many fallen pugilistic icons have risked in the hope of restoring whatever it is that they feel they’ve lost, insists that he can no longer leave things as they are. True champions – and a prime Ricky Hatton was certainly that – don’t quit on themselves, or on those they have disappointed and disillusioned. For those fighters seeking absolution inside the ropes, the immediate future might not turn out as glorious as was the receding past, but then opening one’s veins or totally succumbing to self-pity isn’t the answer, either.

Get back, get back

Get back to where you once belonged

On Nov. 24, in MEN Arena in his hometown of Manchester, site of many of his more memorable successes, Hatton (45-2, 32 KOs) tries to turn back the clock to a much happier time when he takes on former WBA welterweight champion Vyacheslav Senchenko (32-1, 21 KOs), of Ukraine, in what no one can describe as a tuneup. Senchenko might not be on a level with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, ultra-elite opponents who greased the skids for Hatton’s precipitous fall from grace, but he is no stiff to be casually cuffed around for the purpose of making the “Hitman’s” return engagement just another feel-good exercise.

No, Hatton’s purpose in this case seems to be an attempt to quickly find out whether he has the goods to come all the way back, or to again scurry into the hole he had dug for himself these past few years. It is an ambitious quest, even noble if his intentions are as pure as he insists. But the consequences of failure must be daunting to someone whose belief that he can complete the journey has to be at least somewhat fragile at this point. The more Hatton stands to gain, the more he stands to lose.

Some wagers, though, have to be placed because there really isn’t an acceptable alternative. In the game of redemption, you’re all-in or you don’t play.

“Win or lose, I’ve already won,” Hatton says of where he is now in relation to where he was not so very long ago. “I want to finish my career the way it should have ended – not flat on my back on the canvas.

“I feel like I let everybody down. The nation. All my fans. It was a really horrible, dark place I was in. I just needed to prove that I could get fit again. I want people to look at me as a four-time world champion, in two weight categories, and as a down-to-earth man of the people, not as the joke that I had become.”

Funny thing about punches, and punch lines. It’s always better to be the person delivering them than to be the butt of snide remarks from those whose lips previously uttered nothing but praise. A fighter can go from certain victory to emphatic defeat in the time required for the other guy to deliver a devastating shot to the jaw, which is about as swiftly as it takes for someone who always has been the life of the party to become just another unwanted guest with questionable table manners.

All those Hatton devotees from the UK thought it endearingly hilarious when their man cracked wise after his fourth-round stoppage of the formidable Jose Luis Castillo in Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center on June 23, 2007. Asked by a reporter what he planned to do next, Hatton, who never made a secret of his fondness for lifting a pint or two, smiled and said, “I’ll have a few battles tonight with Mr. Guinness.”

Hatton, a nonstop punching machine whose swarming, take-two-to-land-one style is reminiscent of the late Arturo Gatti, made the breakthrough from British phenomenon to global superstar when, as a sizable underdog, he forced the feared Russian, Kostya Tszyu, to quit on his stool after 11 rounds in MEN Arena before the typical sellout crowd of 22,000 on June 4, 2005, capturing the IBF junior welterweight championship in the process. That victory alone would have been enough for Hatton to become the first Briton to be voted Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, although he embellished his credentials for the BWAA award with a subsequent thrashing of Carlos Maussa 5½ months later in Yorkshire, England.

Thus began the extended U.S. phase of Hatton’s dizzying career ascent, with big crowds – enlarged by hordes of British revelers – coming out to see him beat Luis Collazzo in Boston and Juan Urango and Castillo on the Vegas Strip.

“We pride ourselves on being great sportsmen,” said Dennis Holson, the British partner of Art Pelullo, the Philadelphia-based promoter of Hatton’s bouts with Collazzo, Urango and Castillo. “But out-and-out winners? We don’t have that many. Our country is an absolute winner here. We should savor these moments because we’re not just making memories, we’re making history.”

But the good times took a downward turn in Hatton’s next trip to Vegas, where he was paired with the man widely considered to be the finest pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, Floyd Mayweather Jr. An estimated 25,000 Hatton supporters from the UK flooded the city to support their favorite fighter, and so what if only 3,900 tickets were made available to them initially? Some of Hatton’s people were willing to pay up to $10,000 for a ticket, and did, and those who never made it inside the MGM Grand Garden happily filled closed-circuit venues throughout town, screaming themselves hoarse singing “Rule, Brittania,” “God Save the Queen” and, most frequently, “Walking in a Hatton Wonderland” to the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

Unimpressed by all those Hatton crazies, a bemused Mayweather said, “The only reason Hatton is 43-0 is because he hasn’t fought anyone. He hasn’t fought 43 Floyd Mayweathers. If he had, he’d be 0-43.”

Mayweather’s take on what was to unfold proved spot-on; he dominated the action from the opening bell, wresting the WBA welterweight belt from Hatton on a 10th-round TKO, flooring the outclassed champion twice in that round with ripping left hooks.

Still the impish prankster, Hatton sized up his first professional defeat thusly: “What can I say? I was doing all right until I bleepin’ slipped.”

Hatton’s slippage was to continue, in other ways. After victories over Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi, an underprepared Hatton, by then losing too many of his behind-the-scenes battles with Mr. Guinness, was felled by a single blow in the second round from Manny Pacquiao on May 2, 2009, at the MGM Grand. He has not fought since, and his absence from the ring took on the cloak of notoriety when he was photographed snorting cocaine in a hotel.

Now a trimmer, cleaned-up Hatton tries to make amends for the detours he so readily if unwisely took. In his 14th appearance in MEN Arena, can he still fill every one of those 22,000 seats? Will the fighter on display be the same force of nature that battered Kostya Tszyu into submission? Or the one who was exposed as an overhyped fraud by Mayweather and Pacquiao?

Get back, get back

Get back to where you once belonged

Hatton says he wants to do show a more positive side of himself to his children, son Campbell and daughter Millie, who have too often seen the bloated, despondent drunk that their father had become. Maybe he never could have beaten Mayweather and Pacquiao, even at his best, but he did himself no favors by spending more time in the pub than in the gym. That was a surefire way to dissipate any hint of greatness that he once displayed, an aura he so desperately seeks to regain.

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Canelo vs. BJ Saunders: Predictions and Analyses from the TSS Faculty

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More than 60,000 fight fans are expected to gather at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, on Saturday. The turnout for the fight between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders represents a turning point in the COVID-19 era. Boxing has been pretty much walled-off to the general public since a sellout crowd of 15,816 witnessed the second encounter between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder on Feb. 20, 2020 in Las Vegas.

Canelo Alvarez (55-1-2, 37 KOs) holds the WBC and WBA world titles at 168 pounds. Billy Joe Saunders (30-0, 14 KOs) owns the WBO belt. However, the hardware is largely immaterial whenever Canelo steps in the ring as he is widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. In Saunders he is meeting a slick southpaw bidding to become the second member of the Traveling community to hold multiple title belts simultaneously, joining his friend Tyson Fury. The bout headlines a 7-bout card that will air on DAZN in 200+ countries and territories worldwide and on TV Azteca in Mexico.

Whenever a fight of this magnitude comes down the pike, we invite members of our editorial staff to provide a quick analysis of the match and forecast the outcome. Their prognostications appear below with the respondents listed in alphabetical order.

The graphic is by Colorado comic book cover artist ROB AYALA, an honored guest whenever we perform this kind of exercise. Check out more of Rob’s cool illustrations at his web site fight posium.

PICKS and ANALYSIS

No gimme for Canelo here, as Saunders is a southpaw who can box, has a bit of pop in his punch, as well as a knack for making his opponents look not quite as impressive as they normally are. Still, Canelo is at the top of the boxing food chain for a reason. It’s all right for him to win some fights and not be spectacular in doing so. Figure the Mexican icon on scoring a knockdown or two along the way, but he may have to be satisfied with a win on points this time out. – BERNARD FERNANDEZ

I no longer pick against Canelo Alvarez. And certainly not against a boxing basket case like Billy Joe Saunders. There’s a huge difference in the level of maturity between these two fighters and that will be seen in the ring when Canelo becomes the first to corner the fleet-footed Saunders and put him on his back. Canelo KO in 10. – JEFFREY FREEMAN

Canelo by decision. He does everything better than Saunders, who will fight well enough to survive but not win. – THOMAS HAUSER

Billy Joe is formidable. You don’t lock in an Olympic berth at age 18 without natural talent. You don’t run circles around a big puncher like David Lemieux without a high ring IQ. But Saunders, despite his undefeated record, has been inconsistent. Canelo, as Kevin Iole noted in a recent column, doesn’t do one thing great, but he does everything well. How does one formulate a smart game plan for a boxer with no flaws to exploit? Canelo UD. – ARNE LANG

Much has been made by Saunders’ camp this week about the size of the ring that will be used in the fight. While it seems strange and even unruly that there can be such vast disparities in how large the boxing ring is or how spongy the mat can be for any professional fight card in our sport, the truth of the matter is that Saunders probably doesn’t have much hope in beating Alvarez no matter how those other factors play out. They could fight on a basketball court, and I’d still pick Alvarez. The best the cagey UK fighter will be able to muster is trying to go the distance with the Mexican. Callum Smith pulled it off back in December, but Saunders won’t quite get there. CANELO via 9th-round stoppage. – KELSEY McCARSON

There was a time, not that long ago, when I would have favoured Saunders to beat Canelo and stylistically I still feel Saunders holds all the aces. Canelo’s improvements in the last 30 months have astonished, though. He has found a meaningful fourth and fifth punch for his combinations and his strength, for whatever reason, is prestigious at whatever weight he fights. Saunders, something of a persona-non-grata here in his home country after a series of public relations disasters, is very much a man out of time.  Canelo, bodyshots, between the eighth and the tenth. – MATT McGRAIN

There is a case to be made that Canelo Alvarez has not faced a pure boxer on the level of Billy Joe Saunders since his do-si-do with Erislandy Lara in 2014, in a fight that still has some screaming robbery (Alvarez won by split decision). Of course, that was nearly seven years ago, back when Alvarez was still trading on his telenovela bonafides. Since then, he has gone on to distinguish himself as arguably the best boxer in the sport today. The same cannot be said for the erratic and self-sabotaging Saunders, who has squandered his impressive showing against David Lemieux in 2017 with consecutive lackluster outings against mostly middling opposition. The southpaw will find ways to frustrate Alvarez at times, to be sure, but expect Alvarez to slow down the jittery motions of the Brit by punishing him to the body en route to a mostly clear win on the cards. Canelo by majority decision. – SEAN NAM

I see a feeling-out type fight in the first two rounds and then Canelo begins the stalk. Saunders will be more elusive and more savvy than most of Canelo’s opponents, occasionally getting in some sharp counters. However, he will begin to tire late from an accumulation of Canelo’s body work and from backing up. This will allow the Mexican to increase the tempo looking for a way to close the show. The Traveler will survive. But Canelo will win with a dominating UD. – TED SARES

Two names come to mind for me when deciding how this fight will play out. First, Erislandy Lara, who I saw outbox but not outfight Alvarez. Second is Alexander Povetkin, whose horrible performance against Dillian Whyte was reportedly due to coronavirus residue, which Alvarez also claims to have been afflicted by. Can Saunders, another left-hander with a bit more of a reach advantage than Lara, take advantage of a possibly weakened Canelo? Don’t bet on it unless Cinco de Mayo weekend gets cancelled and nobody from Texas or Mexico shows up for the fight. Saunders seems capable of making it interesting, but Alvarez wins by wide decision or late TKO.  – PHIL WOOLEVER

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A Heinous Crime Will Likely Land Felix Verdejo in Prison for the Rest of His Life

Arne K. Lang

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A-Heinous-Crime-Figures-to-Land-Felix-Verdejo-in-Prison-for-the-Rst-of-His-Life

“Felix has a sparkling personality, a flashy fighting style, and he’s good. He’s also f-a-s-t.” The quote is from Thomas Hauser who wrote those words in June of 2015 after Verdejo improved his record to 18-0 with a near-shutout of fellow unbeaten Ivan Nejara on an HBO card from the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

At this juncture it appeared that Verdejo, a former Olympian, was destined to become the next icon of Puerto Rican fight fans, the heir-apparent to Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.

Today, news stories about Verdejo make no reference to his sparkling personality. It’s an attribute inconsistent with the portrait of a monster.

This past Saturday, as hardcore fight fans were glued to the telecast of a show in Manchester, England, it came to light that authorities in San Juan, Puerto Rico, had found the body of a young woman who had been reported missing after failing to turn up at her job at a dog grooming salon on Thursday morning, that the decedent was plainly the victim of foul play, that Verdejo was the primary suspect in her murder, and that he wasn’t cooperating with the authorities.

When the corpse of the missing woman was fished from a lagoon, her body was reportedly so mangled that forensic examiners had to consult dental records to confirm that the decedent was indeed Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz, the 27-year-old woman they were looking for. The boxer and Ms. Rodriguez had reportedly known each other since middle school. According to Rodriguez’s family members, she was pregnant with Verdejo’s child and the boxer, who was married with a 2-year-old daughter, wasn’t happy about it.

Keishla

Keishla Rodriguez

With each new detail, the story became more sordid.

It is alleged that the victim was thrown off a bridge after being punched in the face and injected with a syringe filled with an unidentified substance. Verdejo and an accomplice – who hasn’t been charged and is identified only as a witness – then tied her hands and feet with wire and weighed the body down with a cinderblock before tossing it into the water. When the body was slow to sink, Verdejo allegedly fired a bullet at it. A shell casing was found on the bridge and the authorities have corroborating evidence from toll booth cameras.

As first reported by veteran boxing writer Jake Donovan, the boxer surrendered to FBI agents yesterday evening (Sunday). He appeared this morning via zoom before federal magistrate Camille Velez Rive who ordered him returned to prison and held without bail.

Many of the headlines in the tabloids say that Verdejo is facing the death penalty. That’s technically true. The three crimes for which he has been charged — carjacking resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death, and intentionally killing an unborn child – are federal crimes. As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico is subject to U.S. federal laws. However, Puerto Rico abolished capitol punishment in 1929. The country hasn’t executed anyone since 1927 when a man named Pascual Ramos was hanged for killing his boss.

It’s doubtful that prosecutors would pursue the death penalty unless the trial were moved to the mainland. However, domestic violence has become a hot-button issue in Puerto Rico and the national mood toward crimes of this nature is trending toward harsher retribution. Yesterday, according to the Daily Mail, hundreds of people, mostly women, including Rodriguez’s sister, gathered at the bridge that spans the lagoon to pay their respects and demand justice for the victims of domestic violence.

Felix Verdejo turned pro  at age 19 after representing Puerto Rico in the 2012 London Olympics. He rose to #1 in the WBO lightweight rankings after defeating Oliver Flores in February of 2017, but was demoted for inactivity. There were extenuating circumstances including fights that fell out and a 6-day stay in a hospital following a motorcycle accident.

He returned to the ring after a 13 ½ month absence and suffered his first pro defeat. An unheralded Mexican, Antonio Lozada, stopped him in the final round, the 10th. Verdejo was ahead on two of the scorecards through the nine completed rounds. There were 23 seconds remaining in the contest when the bout was stopped.

Verdejo’s most recent fight came in December of last year. He was stopped in the ninth round by Masayoshi Nakatani at the MGM Bubble in Las Vegas, reducing his pro record to 27-2. As happened against Lozada, Verdejo faded late, squandering a big lead.

Verdejo photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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In Boxing, a Quadrilogy is Rare. Going 2-2 Against Butterbean Even More So

Ted Sares

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The late heavyweight Mitch Rose could not translate his Golden Gloves amateur skills to the pro ranks. He retired with an underwhelming 2-11-1 mark, but he did enough quirky things to put his life story in a book and one of the most memorable parts of it involved his being the first fighter to stop Eric “Butterbean” Esch, the legendary knockout machine who was trumpeted as the King of the Four Rounders. Rose did it on an undercard bout at Madison Square Garden on a show with Oscar De La Hoya and Arturo Gatti in the featured bouts.

“… Rose was a tried and true New Yorker. As loud and funny as he was, he never seemed to take himself too seriously. He had a big heart, a lot of dreams, and an emotional honesty that was extremely refreshing.” — Robert Mladinich, NYFIGHTS

As Bernard Fernandez noted, Eric Esch, aka Butterbean, rebounded nicely. “(He) went on to continue his unlikely advance to stardom of sorts as a bald and blubbery blaster.”

Butterbean, who also competed in MMA and in Tough Man competitions, developed a cult following and retired with a boxing record of 77-10-4. But Butterbean’s last three losses as a boxer came between 2009-2013, long after he should have left the boxing scene.

Enter Kenny “The Raven” Craven (here’s a recent picture).

Craven

Craven

 “Wherever you find yourself in time… Please remember to do the right thing.” — Kenny Craven

A soulful and righteous man who believes in equality and walks the walk, Craven, a Mississippian from tiny Ellisville, is a follower of the teachings of Desmond Tutu. He is pro-people and pro-underdog and will not bypass injustice.

“I wrote a post yesterday on Facebook that expanded my view of the power of the people. All of us know we have this power but we have no idea how to use it. Well, we do know how it is used but we make a conscious decision not to. Why? We the people have supreme authority but we give this gift to just a few people who do not even like us.” — Craven

Kenny Craven finished his pro boxing career with a 28-20 record. He won 23 by knockout BUT all of his 20 losses came by knockout and that made him an exciting fighter, if nothing else. Kenny was a fan favorite on the southern circuit and if his opponent didn’t get him, he usually got his opponent and the fans could anticipate with near 100 percent accuracy that someone was getting knocked down.

The other thing about Kenny was that he fought a Who’s Who of elite fighters. They included Henry Akinwande (37-1-1 coming in), Michael Nunn (55-4), Vaughn Bean (41-2 and no relation to Butterbean), Attila Levin (27-1), Albert Sosnowski (33-1), Clifford Etienne (28-2-2), Calvin Brock (25-0), Timur Ibragimov (20-0-1), Oliver McCall (46-8), Vassiliy Jirov (36-3-1), and Ezra Sellers (28-7).

In 1999, “The Raven” was stopped by Butterbean (48-1-2) in the second round on the undercard of the De La Hoya vs Trinidad fight at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. It was Alabama vs Mississippi. However, in the first round, Craven displayed the blueprint on how to beat the ‘King of Four Rounders” by using a stick and run approach.

In 2005, Kenny lasted until the third round before the Bean (then 71-3-4) overwhelmed him.

 But just three months later in Jackson, Mississippi, Kenny finally figured out Esch and utilized the blueprint by jabbing and moving laterally, and won a majority decision over the heavily favored Bean in front of a small but howling and disbelieving crowd. The fact that Tonya Harding was on the undercard added to the circus-like atmosphere.

Then, three months later in Bejing, China, Kenny did it again. Yes, in China!!? This time he had his way with Eric and cruised to an easy win.

In a rare Quadrilogy, Kenny Craven went 2-2 with Eric Esch who never managed to knock Kenny down or even hurt him. No mean feat.

Mitch Rose had his moment. Kenny Craven had two. As Kenny says, “I did the best I could for a guy with three amateur fights and growing up in rural Mississippi. I loved every second, the good and the bad.”

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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